Power plans

Stuff reports:

Electricity retailer Mercury Energy is using new technology to make pre-paid electricity plans more convenient for customers, but Consumer New Zealand says it isn’t in people’s interests to pay in advance for power. …

But Consumer NZ testing manager Hamish Wilson said the consumer rights group suspected systems like Glo-bug might mean retailers became more aggressive about channelling customers towards pre-pay. It was also concerned by planned increases in power prices.

“All of this is about making life easier for the electricity companies to do what they already do very well, which is effectively plunder people’s bank accounts. We don’t think pre-pay is in the best interests of most of the people who are likely to end up on it,” he said.

It depends. I’m with (which according to a story in the Herald is picking up the most customers from the large retailers) and I buy my power in advance with them. I will sometimes buy months in advance as you can buy winter power cheaper in advance than during winter itself. There is a cost of capital to consider but it is not major.

Glo-bug uses “cloud-based” software, smart meters and the pager network to make it easier for pre-pay customers to monitor their accounts. The system also means customers who run out of credit will only have their electricity disconnected at noon, after 36 hours’ notice.

Customers are given a wireless in-home display which receives updates on their remaining credit over the “oft-forgotten” pager network. It flashes amber and then red if they are about to be disconnected. The set-up relies on Mercury being able to read, connect and disconnect people’s power remotely, using smart meters.

What I like about Powershop is they don’t disconnect if you are late buying power. They e-mail you to remind you, and if necessary even top up the power automatically using their bulk product. I’ve never had to worry about accidental disconnection with them.

“Customers can top-up their accounts at thousands of retailers. It takes an old concept and brings it into the 21st century,” Munro said. “At the moment there is only one retailer deploying smart meters in Wellington, which is Genesis, but I believe the lines companies and other retailers are looking at what to do there.”

Actually Powershop supplied a smart reader to me at my old apartment, which was great. Sadly though it couldn’t move with me, so I back on a dumb meter at my new place.

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